Written at California State University of Fullerton, Science Fiction ENG, 2013
HUMANITY AND ITS MEASURED THREAT OF THE OTHER
This essay analyses the concept “what does it mean to be human?” within the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, concluding that the answer cannot be found within the relationship between humans and the android or the animal, but between humans such as the main character Rick Deckard and the Rosen Association corporation. I argue that humanity is not threatened by technology, instead our use of technology is what it means to be human, and as we see everything outside of us as a potential threat we use technology as an advantage over the other. After analyzing this concept and using the relationship between humans within the novel, it becomes clear that technology or the artificial does not oppose a threat to humanity; it is the human behind the technology that do, because it is humans that create and use technology to threaten or defend against other humans, animals or surroundings. My interpretation of the novel is that it exhibits how humans easily cast blame on the tool rather than the hand that uses the tool, much like the debate regarding weapons and how guns don’t kill people, humans do.
I will explain my thesis, that technology is not a treat to humanity but the human behind the technology, with three premises: (1) Humanity is to naturally measure everything based on its level of threat; (2) as part of evolution, humanity created technology to use as an advantage against a threat; (3) and so, technology has become so integrated with humanity that it has become a part of it; (4) therefore my conclusion is that technology cannot be perceived as a threat. Dick’s novel makes a perfect example of my argument as Deckard uses technology to track down and kill androids, which in turn were created by a large corporation along with artificial animals to serve humans.
In the story Deckard is a bounty hunter on Earth that makes a living retiring the latest of androids, the Nexus-6, artificial humans who have fled back to Earth after killing their owners on Mars and grouped together in order to start a new life free from slavery. With the money earned from every kill Deckard performs, he saves to buy a real animal to replace his artificial sheep although in the end he decides to keep an artificial frog as to him it through his viewpoint has become real. The animal along with the android are both created by the Rosen Association, a corporation that is exhibited as a superior being, an artificial entity and a threat to Deckard. “He could not make out, even now, how the Rosen Association had managed to snare him, and so easily. Experts, he realized. A mammoth corporation like this–it embodies too much experience. It possesses in fact a sort of group mind (Dick 55).”
My interpretation of the novel is not that Dick intend to show how technology may be a threat to humanity, but merely uses it to show what humanity is; the fear of threat and how technology has become the ultimate tool against possible threats as it creates an advantage of the other. The novel displays humans’ deep integration with technology, how we create it as a means to serve humanity and how we at times view technology as a threat when we in fact should look at the creator of the technology. Because as the android breaks free, Deckard sets out to retire them although they are not directly opposing as a threat back on Earth. Therefore my argument is that it is not the nexus-6 who is Dick’s main antagonist in the novel or the largest threat towards humanity, but the Rosen Association who is the creator of the technology and its intentions is what the humans should fear. In order to clearly express my view that to be human is to measure a surrounding based on its level of threat with no concern if it is artificial or organic, my focus lie on the relationship between Deckard and the Rosen Association. Studying the relationship between the two, I intend to display that the novel’s theme is not technology and its dehumanizing effect, the difference between the artificial or the real, or the link between humanity and empathy. It is not about technology opposing as a threat to humanity, but the threat of humans intentions as humanity uses technology as tools to attain an advantage over the other. In the novel, the Rosen Association is the creator of the artificial, using technology to become superior.
This essay will incorporate two authors with different views on the novel and its concept “what does it mean to be human?” to support my premises. In “Sherryl Vint’s “Speciesism and Species Being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” she argues that what it means to be human cannot be answered by merely analyzing the relationship between humans and technology. Instead she uses speciesism (the assignment of values, rights, or special consideration to individuals on the basis of their species) to examine the human view and usage of animals and machines, to conclude that humans distinguish themselves as separate and superior to both. This is an original outlook on the novel, and although it is very different from my main claim that humans oppose a threat to humans, not technology, Vint’s essay support my second premise that humanity view animals and machines as not part of them but as tools, created to benefit humans throughout evolution and to be used as an advantage towards a threat, which also support my conclusion that technology can not be a threat since it is the human behind the technology that controls it.
In contrast to her view, “Christopher A. Sims’s “The Danger of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” argues that man’s historical and future use of technology show that its use is not an inherently flawed path leading toward overall negative outcomes that will diminish the human natural state, instead that it is a part of the human experience and should not be feared. He concludes that as technology has been created for evolutionary needs, improving humanity, it has become inseparable from humans and therefore the human relationship with technology cannot be separated from the human experience. As Vint claims that humans view machines as an external object to be used as a benefit to humans, Sims view technology as an integrated part of humanity, which support my third premise and conclusion that since technology is now a part of humanity it cannot be view as a threat.
I believe there is a natural tendency for humans to view everything outside of their immediate world as a potential enemy and therefore: Humanity is to naturally measure everything based on its level of threat. I argue that for evolutionary need humans naturally gage everything they encounter, animal or machine, based on the amount of its threat and then if it is useful humans keep it, if it is not humans destroy it. As Deckard says the first time he enters the Rosen Association and is greeted by Rachel Rosen: “A humanoid robot is like any other machine; it can fluctuate between being a benefit and a hazard very rapidly. As a benefit it’s not our problem (Dick 40).” In the novel as the android kills its owner and escapes to Earth, they loose their purpose as slaves and are no longer a benefit to humans, and so they become a threat. Even though the androids do not oppose an immediate threat to humans on Earth since all they want is to live, not to kill additional humans, they are no longer a benefit to humanity and so Deckard is assigned to kill them. Vint in her essay concludes: “the line drawn between human and nonhuman that justifies the use of violence without ethical consequence exists only when and where its existence needs to be constructed (3).” In that statement Vint points out that as long as we see the other as a threat, creating a line between human and nonhuman, we find it justifiable to destroy it. That is what it means to be human.
In my second premise I claim: As a part of evolution humanity created technology to use as an advantage towards a threat. In Dick’s novel, the Rosen Association use technology in order to create its products: the android and the artificial animal. The corporation has created the next step in human evolution, the artificial human constructed to serve mankind, and to be used as a tool towards possible threats. Therefore it is the Rosen Association and its impact on its society that impose a threat. Some may argue that the android as it is superior to humans is therefore a threat as its technology has enhanced their intellect and strength. An argument that may seem valid but in fact only supports my argument that it is not the technology that oppose a threat but the human behind it. Because humans have created the android, humans created the technology it embodies, and humans created the reason for its existence. There is no line between technology and humanity; there is only the intention of creation. As the President of the Rosen Association explains: “If our firm hadn’t made these progressively more human types, other firms in the field would have. We knew the risk we were taking wen we developed the Nexus-6 brain unit (Dick 54).” It doesn’t matter if the android oppose as a threat as they kill their owner to be free, it is the humans that creates these beings in fear that another human might create one and so gain a better advantage. As Sims says in his essay when describing technology: “The word “advantage” in this context suggests an evolutionary framework, in which all forms of life are struggling with one another in order to increase their own chances of survival. From this perspective technology might be considered as an evolutionary adaptation that humans have acquired and used to gain dominance over the other forms of life or aspects of nature (2).” To be human is to use technology to gain advantage over possible threats.
Sims’s statement leads me to my third premise: Technology is so integrated with humanity that it is a part of it. Through evolution technology has become a natural part of humanity. The novel presents humanity and its relationship to technology in a futuristic setting; although the technologies have changed, the relationship remains the same. “Under U.N. law each emigrant automatically received possession of an android subtype of his choice, and, by 2019, the variety of subtubes passed all understanding, in the manner of American automobiles of the 1960s (Dick 16).” In the novel, technology and the android have become as natural in society as the automobile later became. It does not oppose as a threat, it is a tool for humans to gain higher status, abilities, freedom, or pleasure. It is created to benefit humans, as tools for our survival. My analysis, and I would guess Sims’s as well, although he does not state it in his essay, is that Dick’s novel almost provide the Nexus-6, the perfect artificial human, as a metaphor for the fusion of humans and technology. Two parts so unified that there is no longer any difference between them, there is no longer any artificial and a genuine. As Vint argues: “It is not, as often argued, that Deckard risks becoming increasingly like the androids through his work as a bounty hunter; rather the risk faced by Deckard and other humans in the novel lies in realizing that they already are android like, so long as they define their subjectivity based on the logical, rational, calculating part of human being (2-3).” In this, Vint clarifies my statement and supports Sims’s argument that technology is not something separate from us, something we should fear will take over humanity or something we will turn into because humans and technology are already as one. As humans are a logical species it uses technology as an extension of its limited embodiment.
With that in mind the conclusion is simple, if humans measure everything based on its level of threat and has created technology in order to gain an advantage of the other, and because of evolution, technology is no longer a separate object bus has become a part of humanity, and therefore technology cannot be viewed as a threat to humanity only other humans. In my analysis of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I ground my argument not by analyzing the relationship between human and android, or human and animal, as humanity is not a singular relationship, but on the corporation and its relationship to other human groups since the conflict is humans technology versus other humans use of that technology. Since technology is inherent in human life the relationship between human and technology isn’t what is important but rather how separate groups use technology against each other. Further in the novel I view the corporation as a distinguishable group of humans using technology in a specific way. This use of technology is a threat to Deckard and therefore he adapts to suppress that which is not useful to him. Much like the human tendency to farm animals that offer a measurable benefit and to rid the environment that threatens them. However I argue that the main characters’ true battle is not with the android or the animal, his battle is against the intention of the corporation, the creator of the android and the animal.
Dick. Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Random House Inc., Toronto: Random House of Canada Limited. 1968.
Sims, Christopher A. “The Danger of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Journal of Language of Publication 36 (2009): 67-86.
Vint, Sherryl. “Speciesism and species being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Critical essay from Literature Resource Center 40.1 (2007): 111